In high school and through his first 7 years in the NBA, LeBron James wore number 23. That was no doubt a testament to Michael Jordan, the former Chicago Bull who is regarded to be the best player to ever play the game. The number was certainly not the only comparison between these two players, and LeBron has faced measuring sticks pointing to the great MJ his entire career. James seems to have enough talent to eclipse Jordan at some point and be considered the best to ever play the game, but his performance thus far leaves him well short.
The obvious argument that we will be hearing for years to come is that LeBron doesn't have the hardware to even be in the same conversation with Jordan. The Bulls won 6 NBA Championships with Michael Jordan as their best player, and that is 6 more than LeBron James will have for at least another year after he disappearing in the crucial moments of seemingly every Finals game in the past 2 weeks. If you watched Jordan play at all in his career you would know that he almost always played his best basketball in the fourth quarter.
If you ask me, just looking at championships and clutch play does not lend itself to a fair comparison, so let's hit the stat book and go a little deeper.
Here are the stat lines for these two greats side-by-side (using per-game stats to not short LeBron for only being halfway or so through his career):
Jordan: 38.3 min, 30.1 pts, 5.3 ast, 5.2 reb, 2.3 stl, 0.8 blk, .497 fg%, 0.5 3pm, .327 3p%
James: 40.1 min, 27.7 pts, 7.0 ast, 7.1 reb, 1.7 stl, 0.8 blk, .479 fg%, 1.4 3pm, .329 3p%
Looking at those lines, Jordan only wins 3 of the 8 categories (points, steals, fg%), not counting minutes. LeBron has better numbers in assists, rebounds, 3 pointers made, and 3 point percentage. From here you could argue that James is a more complete, and therefore better player. However, this comparison just isn't that simple.
You must first keep in mind that the Cavaliers team that James played on through the first 7 years of his career was far inferior to the Bulls team Jordan was on for much of his career. Until this year, when LeBron joined Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, he had never played with anyone you could call a star in the league. Jordan played alongside Scottie Pippen (who is on every top 50 player list you'll ever find) and Dennis Rodman (one of, if not the greatest rebounder in NBA history). This complicates the comparison process quite a bit.
Let's stay with statistics, but we'll go a little more in depth and use some more complicated statistics. Here are the stats I'm going to use (all courtesy of http://www.basketball-reference.com):
Offensive Rating (ORtg) – an estimate of points produced (players) or scored (teams) per 100 possessions.
Defensive Rating (DRtg) – an estimate of points allowed per 100 possessions
Offensive Win Shares (OWS) – an estimate of the number of wins contributed by a player due to his offense
Defensive Win Shares (DWS) – an estimate of the number of wins contributed by a player due to his defense
Win Shares (WS) – an estimate of the number of wins contributed by a player
Win Shares Per 48 Minutes (WS/48) – an estimate of the number of wins contributed by a player per 48 minutes
Now here's the numbers:
Jordan: 118 ORtg, 103 DRtg, 150 OWS, 64 DWS, 214 WS, .250 WS/48
James: 115 ORtg, 102 DRtg, 80 OWS, 39 DWS, 119 WS, .227 WS/48
Just looking at the basic statistics, James seems to have a slip, but you look at these more in depth statistics that are more relevant when comparing players from different teams in different era, it's a clean sweep for Jordan, and it's not close.
Those two stat lines above show the contributions these players have made on their team's ability to win basketball games, disregarding their teammates performances, abilities, and the outcome of the games.
So there you go, there's the first James vs. Jordan argument in history that didn't use championships as its main arguing point, and Jordan still wins it.
There's no hands down fair way to compare players that played at different times, and there may never be a consensus on who is better between Jordan and James, but from my point of view, James has a long ways to go before he gets anywhere near the great MJ.